Hannay: The Terrors of the Earth

HannayCountry: United Kingdom
Director: Ken Hannan
Starring: Robert Powell, Gavin Richards, Alex Kingston, Frank Moorey, Jonathan Oliver
Music: Denis King
Based on characters created by John Buchan

The Terrors of the Earth is the second episode of the second season of Thames Hannay television series – (or the eighth episode – there were thirteen made all up). I have never really warmed to Hannay. I dearly want to, as I have enjoyed practically every version of The 39 Steps – even the ones that most people screw their noses up at. Hannay is a character I like, but this series seems unsure on how to present the character.

In this episode, Dr. Nils Larssen (Frank Moorey) is a Swedish Scientist working for the British Government. He has been working on a series of preventative vaccines for such diseases as Cholera, Typhus, and Tuberculosis. One afternoon, he returns early to his laboratory, which is being sponsored by Lord Hurst (David Howey), and finds that his junior assistant, Edgar Voce (Jonathan Oliver) has locked the door. After pounding on the door, Voce finally lets his Larssen into the lab. Larssen has sharp eyes and immediately notices that a cupboard is open and inside is a microscope that his Voce has hastily tried to conceal.

Larssen retrieves the microscope and looks down through the eye-piece. On a slide he is disturbed to discover hundreds – soon to be thousands – of micro-organisms rapidly multiplying.Voce is reprimanded, and removed from the lab. Furthermore he is told that from now on his duties will be solely administerial.

Later that day, as a guest of, and accompanied by an old chum, Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) arrives at Lord Hurst’s estate for the evening. He has been invited to become an investor in Larssen’s research. That evening he is also introduced to Larssen’s lovely daughter, Kirsty (Alex Kingston).

Meanwhile, back in London, Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards), a German spy – and essentially Hannay’s arch-enemy throughout this series – is being briefed on germ warfare and an operation that is currently underway in Britain. It seems that Voce is actually a German agent, and plans to steal Dr. Larssen’s research. Von Schwabing is required to provide safe passage out of the country.

Voce begins his scheme, by first placing a few drops of a virulent cocktail into Larssen’s drinking water. Overnight, Larssen takes ill, and is spirited away once it is discovered that he is sick. Fearing an outbreak, Lord Hurst has the Doctor taken secretively to a nearby army hospital to be kept in quarantine.

Lord Hurst refuses to allow Kirsty to see her father – believing that she may contribute to an outbreak. Hannay, unaware of the true facts, believing that it is only chivalrous, decides to assist Kirsty in finding her father. And after a bit of derring-do, they do find him, although the incident does land Hannay in trouble with the authorities once again.

Meanwhile Voce has used the distraction to make his getaway with a lethal canister of bacteria – sort of a cocktail of all the worst diseases known to man. Naturally, Hannay’s investigations into Larssen’s illness and confinement, put him on a collision course with his nemesis Von Schwabing – and including the almost pre-requisite set-piece where Hannay is captured and locked away in a strange location from which he has to escape. In this instance that strange location happens to be in a room at the top of a wind mill.

All-in-all, this is a sprightly little episode in the Hannay series. Like all the episodes it still suffers from budget constraints. Put simply, Richard Hannay is a man of adventure, and this series should be an adventure series, but at times plays out like a thinking man’s show. Now I have nothing against a good cerebral drama, but if you a making such a show, then you’d invest it with great dialogue and a thoughtful plot. Hannay seems to straddle a line between being a thoughtful drama and a knockabout adventure series, and as such never quite succeeds at being either. Still, for spy fans, this is one of the best episodes of the series.

Hannay: The Terrors of the Earth

Hannay: The Fellowship Of The Black Stone (1988)

Directed by David Giles
Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Gavin Richards, David Waller, Christopher Scoular, Dominique Barnes, Davyd Harries
Music by Denis King

I did a quick overview of the Hannay series a few years back, but I thought it was worth going back and looking at a couple of individual episodes. I afraid though, that this revisitation hasn’t made me change my original opinion that Hannay is sluggish and lacks atmosphere.

The Fellowship Of The Black Stone is the first episode in this thirteen part series. The show opens in Damaraland S.W. Africa in 1912, or so we are told – it looks like a gravel pit outside London. But regardless, we meet our hero Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) riding a horse through a tortuous sandy landscape. Hiding amongst the sandy peaks is Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards) who is brandishing a riffle. As Hannay rides past, Von Schwabing shoots him. Hannay falls off his horse – the wound appears to be fatal. Pleased with his handy work, Von Schwabing scoots out from his hiding place and approaches Hannay’s inert body, then presses a smooth black stone into Hannay’s hand. Naturally he expects Hannay to die from the wound.

Some time later, we join Hannay on a steamer bound for London. On the last night of the trip, Hannay receives an invite from Lord Hazelmere (David Waller) to join him for drinks. While Hannay is enjoying Hazelmere’s hospitality, a gloved figure (we do not see their face) places a wrapped parcel in Hannay’s steamer trunk.

In London, Hannay has an old army acquaintance, Reggie Armitage (Christopher Scoular) who has arranged lodging for him at the ‘20th Century Club’ in Pall Mall. Over a few stiff drinks, Hannay retells the tale of his near death experience at the hands of Count Von Schwabing. Armitage, who it appears is a member of the Foreign Office (or possibly even the Secret Service) confesses that in Africa he has lost five agents and two couriers over the past few months – all of them found with a black stone in their hands.

Later that evening, Hannay unpacks his steamer trunk and discovers the parcel. It is addressed, so he takes the parcel to the address and hands it over unopened. For his trouble he is blackjacked from behind. When he awakens, he is tied to a chair in a stone dungeon with an imposing figure standing over him. The gentleman happens to be a henchman for Von Schwabing who is now operating out of London.

As the story unfolds, Hannay not only ends up involved in a plot by the villainous Germans, but also end up being pursued by Commander Neville of Scotland Yard (Charles Gray), wanted on two counts of murder.

While I profess to having enjoyed all three filmic version of The 39 Steps, I must admit that I find the Hannay series rather cold and lacking atmosphere. The pacing, for this episode at least, is quite okay and the story is a pure ‘stiff upper lip’ British Imperial adventure, but strangely I am not drawn into this world. I want to like the series, but there’s a lack of chemistry happening on the screen. Initially I thought that this was because it was filmed on videotape and lacked visual depth, and that barrier was distracting me – but soon after watching this show, I watched some episodes (quite a few actually) of The Sandbaggers which utilises the same production techniques. Instantly I was drawn into the world of The Sandbaggers – but not so Hannay. I’m afraid, for me, this series just doesn’t work.

To read my original overview of the series click here.

Hannay: The Fellowship Of The Black Stone (1988)

Hannay (1988-89)

TV Series 13 Episodes
Directed by David Giles, Guy Slater, Jeremy Summers.
Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Gavin Richards Christopher Scoular

Who is Hannay? Richard Hannay was a character created by John Buchan, and first appeared in the book The Thirty Nine Steps. He subsequently appeared in further adventures (Greenmantle is the easiest to locate).
Why is Hannay important? Along with Somerset Maughm’s Ashendon and Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Hannay is considered one of the characters that inspired Fleming and subsequently the whole sixties spy boom.

In this series, Robert Powell plays Hannay, a character he had played before in the underrated 1976 version of The Thirty Nine Steps, directed by Don Sharp. For espionage lovers this TV series is a mixed bag. Some episodes have Hannay battling Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards), a German diplomat who is secretly planning for Germany’s entrance into World War One. One episode Voyage Into Fear, is similar to The Ipcress File in style.

Other episodes in the series, Hannay tends to battle the usual swag of underworld criminals. These episodes, are probably more like Sherlock Holmes or Bulldog Drummond (Coleman rather than Richard Johnson) than spy stories.

It’s an enjoyable series, but beware as it was only meant for television and done on the cheap. The interiors were filmed on video tape which looks incredibly flat. Everything is in focus, so there is no depth – it almost looks as if it is stage bound – it isn’t. The sets and costumes are good, but the filming technique really lets it down – there are even burn mark and trails when the camera passes a blight light, candle or match.

In the end, the series is an interesting historical footnote (similar to Reilly: Ace Of Spies), but unless you are a spy completist, or an avid fan of Robert Powell, I wouldn’t spend too much time, tracking the series down.

The Episodes Are:

1. The Fellowship Of The Black Stone
2. A Point Of Honour
3. Voyage Into Fear
4. Death With Due Notice
5. Act Of Riot
6. The Hazard Of The Die
7. Coup De Grace
8. The Terrors Of The Earth
9. Double Jeopardy
10. The Good Samaritan
11. That Rough Music
12. The Confidence
13. Say The Bells Of Shoreditch

Hannay (1988-89)